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US Advances Deployment of 'Bunker Buster' Bomb

By Al Pessin
08 October 2009

The Pentagon is acknowledging it has moved up the date for deployment of a massive bomb capable of penetrating deeply buried enemy facilities. Many observers believe the weapon is designed for a possible attack on Iranian facilities, but officials will not make that connection.

It is officially called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, but it's known informally as a new and larger type of Bunker Buster. It weighs more than 13 metric tons - so heavy that only one can be carried on the most capable U.S. bomber aircraft. The Defense Department will not confirm its capabilities, but analysts believe it is designed to penetrate up to 60 meters of earth, or a thick layer of concrete, before exploding.

The bomb has been under development for several years. Its deployment was delayed due to budget constraints and because officials believed it was not needed urgently. But Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says that assessment changed earlier this year.

"The threats have been developing over the years," he said. "There are, without getting into any intelligence, there are countries that have used technologies to go further under ground and to take those facilities and make them hardened. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one."

The Pentagon got permission from the congress to redirect $52 million to move up the deployment date of the new bunker buster. Whitman says the first of the bombs should be ready by the middle of next year. He notes that the United States has other weapons capable of penetrating hardened facilities, but he says the technology in the Massive Ordnance Penetrator takes the capability to a new level.

"If you look at the spectrum of munitions, certain munitions have greater penetrating capability than others," said Whitman. "But the Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a bomb that, for the most part, I would put in a class by itself."

Whitman would not discuss the weapon's possible use against any specific country. Many analysts believe it is designed particularly for North Korea and Iran. Last month, U.S. officials revealed the existence of an Iranian nuclear facility inside a mountain, which they have known about for three years. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted this week Iran could have other such installations.

Again without reference to any specific country, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell spoke about the bunker buster bomb on Wednesday.

"The reality is that the world we live in is one in which there are people who seek to build weapons of mass destruction, and they seek to do so in a clandestine fashion," he said. "And this has been a capability that we have long believed was missing from our quiver, our arsenal, and we wanted to make sure we filled in that gap."

Morrell said the new weapon provides a capability that defense department officials believe is necessary in today's world.

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